Director: Ian Fitzgibbon
Cast: Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Andy Serkis, Aisling Loftus, Michael McElhatton
Running time: 99 minutes
Release date: November 30
Director Ian Fitzgibbon adds a dash of the unfamiliar to this story about an unsure teenager standing at the crossroads of youth, maturity, life and death.
As Donald Clark (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) struggles to come to terms with the fact that he has terminal cancer, the artistically talented 15-year-old adopts a devil-may-care approach to life which frequently lands him in trouble with the authorities. The teenager’s distressed parents bring him to a number of psychologists, all of whose efforts to establish a rapport with Donald end in failure. Things change when he encounters Dr Adrian King (Andy Serkis), a practitioner who adopts a more unconventional approach to his troubled clients. A fragile trust slowly builds between the pair as Donald attempts to accept his own mortality while also leading the life of a regular teen exploring his emerging sense of self, and vying to win the affections of classmate Shelly (Aisling Loftus).
Although the basic plot is reminiscent of your average coming-of-age tale crossed with a terminal illness drama, Fitzgibbon incorporates unique stylistic devices that give it a freshness which prevents his film from sliding into run-of-the-mill predictability. Donald’s sessions with Dr King offer insights into his fragile mental state, but the film is interspersed with Batman-esque comic sketch sequences which are of equal importance in terms of understanding the main protagonist’s mindset. These glimpses of a fantasy world depict Donald as a socially aloof superhero stalked by a bloodthirsty villain—a manifestation of his illness—with scantily clad women often featuring in the background. As a device it works perfectly, negating the need for overly-emotional tell-all scenes with Dr King by instead offering another outlet for showing what lurks inside Donald’s subconscious.
Brodie-Sangster brings a great deal to the role of Donald, conveying his feelings of confusion and detachment with seemingly minimum effort while maintaining the character’s sense of personal dignity. His performance, much like the film itself, is not emotionally wrought and as a consequence he avoids reducing Donald to a figure whose sole purpose is to evoke pity. Brodie-Sangster is backed up by a strong supporting cast, with Serkis and love interest Aisling Loftus adding colour with their portrayals of atypical characters who act as key emotional pillars in Donald’s life.
Death of a Superhero deals with familiar themes, but it does so with emotional restraint and a self-possessed elegance that sets it apart. Authentic, engaging and finely balanced, Fitzgibbon’s latest offering is a joy to watch.